Here at Murray & Olson Orthodontics, we often speak to parents who want to know when they should bring their child in for an orthodontic visit. Many are surprised to learn that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children have an orthodontic evaluation by about the age of 7! While it’s common knowledge that regular dental check-ups are an important part of maintaining your child’s healthy smile, you may not realize early orthodontic evaluations also play an important role in oral health. We’re sometimes asked why this recommendation exists, since younger children have mouths that are still developing and lots of baby teeth left. That’s why we’re taking a look at why your child should see an orthodontist by age 7!
They key point to remember is that evaluation doesn’t always lead to treatment. In fact, we only recommend immediate treatment for a small fraction of the younger patients we see. Yet these visits are still valuable precisely because they give us time to diagnose any potential issues and work out a treatment plan that works with that child’s smile as they grow. This is possible thanks to the dental “landmarks” most children will have in place by the time they’re around 7 years of age, including their permanent front teeth and the first set of adult molars. An experienced orthodontist will use these to identify the way a child’s bite is likely to develop as they grow.
If you have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit, you may not be sure what to expect from the visit or the treatment process, should there be one. We’re here to help! Let’s take a closer look at what happens during an orthodontic evaluation and what will come after that initial visit. Keep reading below to learn more!
What happens during a child’s first orthodontic evaluation?
When you schedule a complimentary consultation for your child at our Visalia office, our main focus will be assessing their overall oral health. Dr. Murray and Dr. Olson will want to look for any issues that could warrant treatment, whether now or in the future. This gives our team the opportunity to correct any problems before they can develop into something more serious. Some of the most common orthodontic issues they’ll be looking for are listed below.
As the placeholders for our permanent teeth, our baby teeth matter more than you might think! They also tend to fall out in a pretty specific order. If we see any significant deviation from that pattern, it may signal a developmental issue that requires further attention from our orthodontists.
Most children should have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors by around the age of 7. Any more or less than this could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth.
Cosmetic appearances aside, crooked teeth can also be harder to brush and floss effectively. They’re more susceptible to uneven wear and tear as well. If these issues are left untreated over time, it can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue.
These problems can occur when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or if a child has teeth that are too small or spaced too far apart.
Front teeth that noticeably protrude may be viewed as primarily a cosmetic concern, but they can also increase the risk of potential injury to the permanent teeth and even affect a child’s speech patterns.
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. This usually involves the lower jaw growing too far forward, or the upper jaw growing deficiently.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and may cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other to fit the top and bottom teeth together. A narrow upper jaw can also be associated with a narrow nasal passage.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These bite problems occur vertically. In bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can indicate a small lower jaw. With an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough.
What happens after a child’s first orthodontic visit?
One reason that we love early orthodontic evaluations is because they allow us to approach a child’s orthodontic care proactively instead of reactively. This means we can provide children with the care and treatment they need at the most optimal time for the best results!
There’s actually a name for this approach—Phase I treatment. We often initiate Phase I treatment in order to achieve results that we may not be able to obtain once a child’s face and jaw stop growing. This type of treatment helps encourage proper jaw development which will then:
- better accommodate the permanent teeth when they come in
- improve how the upper and lower jaws fit together
- reduce the risk of damage due to untreated issues
During Phase I treatment, we’ll often use fixed or removable orthodontic appliances for a specific period of time. We can do this with one or both jaws. Using orthodontic appliances in this way helps correct poor jaw growth, creates space for developing teeth, and allows the facial muscles to develop more normally.
Once this initial phase is complete, the appliance will be removed and a period of observation will follow. During this time, a retainer may be given to help keep the teeth stable. We’ll also continue to monitor the child’s mouth every 4-6 months or so to ensure that everything is proceeding according to the treatment plan.
Most Phase I patients will eventually need Phase II treatment to continue the stabilizing process. During Phase II, we’ll usually use braces or aligners to move the teeth into their final positions. This will complete the bite correction process and leave children with a beautifully aligned and fully functional mouth!
Get your child’s smile off to the best start with an early evaluation from Murray-Olson Orthodontics
As you can see, bringing your child in for an evaluation with Dr. Murray or Dr. Olson is one of the best things you can do for their smile! If no immediate treatment is necessary, we’ll invite you to continue visiting our office every 6-12 months so that we can continue to monitor their smile. This way, we’re able to keep up with their dental development and catch any emerging issues early on. Our recall visits are always free of charge!
If you’re in Visalia or the surrounding areas and have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with our team today to schedule their FREE evaluation and take the first step towards a healthy smile that will last a lifetime.